Reigning Macanese champions Chao Pak Kei announced that they had withdrawn from the AFC Cup on Friday. Although the decision seemed inevitable, Lee Man head coach Chan Hiu-ming was irate with the AFC’s handling of the situation.
Reigning Macanese champions Chao Pak Kei announced on Friday that they would not compete in the 2022 AFC Cup, marking the second consecutive year in which the side have withdrawn from the competition. The AFC announced that CPK’s group would continue to be held with no replacement team.
CPK were initially drawn into Group J of the AFC Cup as Macau’s direct group stage entry, alongside Hong Kong Premier League runners-up Eastern and Taiwanese champions Tainan City. The group stage matches, which will continue to be held between 24 to 30 June, were due to be held in Tainan but COVID prevention measures meant that Tainan City were forced to give up their hosting rights. The AFC subsequently announced on 5 May that the matches would be held in Buriram, Thailand.
Stephen Chow, chairman of CPK, told the Macao Daily that his club had “no choice” but to withdraw in light of potential quarantine upon return to the city. Although Thailand does not require quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers, Macau requires returning citizens and permitted travellers to quarantine for 14 days in a designated facility and adhere to seven additional days of health self-management.
“Participating in AFC Cup has always been our biggest goal and over the past few years, we’ve worked hard to make that a reality,” Chow stated. “Unfortunately, the impact of the pandemic has meant that we’ve had to give that up and we’re all disappointed that this is the case.
“The local players need to take time off to participate in the tournament and comply with quarantine measures. But also, we have some foreigners who are work permit holders and they may not be able to re-enter Macau if they leave. The biggest obstacle to participation is the amount of uncertainty.”
The chairman stated bluntly that if Macau maintains its current virus prevention measures, it will be impossible for CPK to travel for international competitions. For the time being, Chow says that the team will focus on winning the league again so that they can qualify for the next AFC Cup and be ready at any time if the opportunity for travel arises.
Hong Kong coaches respond to CPK withdrawal
Eastern head coach Roberto Losada was quite magnanimous with his thoughts, saying that CPK’s withdrawal would not have much of an impact on his preparations but expressed sadness that his team would play one fewer match.
Lee Man head coach Chan Hiu-ming agreed that preparations would not be impacted, however, the manner in which the decision was handled drew the coach’s ire. “If (CPK) hadn’t waited so late to pull out, we wouldn’t have had to qualify through the playoffs. We have invested resources in terms of money and effort so why does (the AFC) allow a team to withdraw at such a late stage? Why couldn’t they assure us that this wouldn’t happen?”
Due to the Hong Kong government’s restrictions on gatherings and the temporary closure of the Football Training Centre, the Bees travelled to Thailand in mid-March for four weeks of training at their own expense ahead of their playoff match against Athletic 220 on 19 April. The club had asked for the match to be postponed until June but never received approval from Asian football’s governing body.
Chan continued his criticism of the AFC, pointing to the fact that the match schedule had changed as a result of CPK’s withdrawal. Lee Man were previously set to play the Macanese side on the second matchday, but are now scheduled to take on Tainan City. The Bees will continue to play Eastern three days prior on the first matchday, but will now be idle on the third matchday.
“In the same situation, when Shanghai Port pulled out of the AFC Champions League, they did not reschedule any of the matches of their group,” Chan said in his belief that his side are now at a disadvantage. “If that’s the precedent, then they should cancel the matches involving CPK and leave the rest of schedule as is.”